If you want to buy a solar panel in the UK and use it to generate green electricity under the UK feed-in tariff, you will have a much smaller range of solar panels to choose from than customers anywhere else in the world. The reason for this is because of a scheme invented by the UK government called the Micro-generation Certification Scheme (or MCS). This benefits and drawbacks of this scheme were discussed in a previous article on this site and now that we are two months into the feed-in tariff it is a good time for a review of the situation.
There are more solar panels to choose from now than there were two months ago, however there is still a very restricted choice with some major solar panel manufacturers missing from the list. This can only hurt the UK industry. At a time such as now, when the industry is going through an unprecedented boom, customers need as much competition in the market place as possible. Such restrictions are dangerous as they can lead to inflated or irregular pricing. Europe as a whole is experiencing high volumes of demand at present (largely driven by Germany) which is causing equipment shortages and long lead times. We have seen evidence that the MCS restrictions are exacerbating these problems as there is a much smaller number of available suppliers to choose from.
Some of the stated aims of the MCS process are valid. I am very much in favour of protecting consumers from low quality, inferior products. The question remains is how much does MCS add on top of the existing international accreditation bodies for solar panels such as IEC and UL. These bodies are represented by committees with decades of experience in solar panel reliability testing who spend a huge amount of time developing new ways to prove reliability.
MCS accreditation requires visits from MCS inspectors who ‘inspect’ a manufacturer’s facility before their solar panels can be given the green light. Nowhere is it written who these inspectors are and what their qualifications might be to do this above and beyond IEC or UL testing.
Looking at the current list of MCS accredited solar panels it is difficult to see on what criteria certification is being given. Some large very high quality manufacturers are missing, whilst some small, unheard of manufacturers are already there.
I have heard from colleagues in the industry that administrative and beaurocratic issues are currentls holding up a large number of MCS applications and that a raft of new solar panels will join the list soon. I hope this is the case, and I would encourage anyone with more information on the issue to contact this site. My message to the organizers of the MCS process however, is to put more effort into not damaging the industry that it is designed to support.